The notoriously anti-science owner of Fox News has just taken over National Geographic.
In a move that left more than a few people nervously scratching their heads, climate change denier and billionaire conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch recently bought the longtime popular science staple, National Geographic. The acquisition will see 21st Century Fox, currently headed by CEO James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, taking a 73 percent share of the National Geographic Society, which owns the magazine. The $725 million dollar venture will increase the Society’s endowment and grant-making abilities to nearly $1 billion.
Gary Knell, National Geographic President and CEO, made the following statement regarding the merger:
“The expansion of our nearly two decade partnership with 21st Century Fox is another milestone for The National Geographic Society, which for much of its 127 years has sponsored groundbreaking scientists and explorers and shared the knowledge and wonder with the world, using the best and most creative media platforms of each era.”
As Knell noted in his statement, this isn’t the first dalliance between the two. In 1997, National Geographic partnered with Fox to create the Nat Geo TV channel. The new deal will dramatically expand that partnership, consolidating the magazine as well as the Nat Geo digital properties, book publishing, and travel businesses under one brand — National Geographic Partners.
While 21st Century Fox maintains there will be no changes to the magazine, the conflict of interest couldn’t be more clear: one of the biggest popular science and education magazines in the world is now owned by a climate change denier and conservative propagandist. After 127 years as a non-profit, National Geographic will now be controlled by the same man that owns Fox News, the same man who stated the following:
“Things are happening, but how much are we doing with emissions and so on? Well as far as Australia goes, nothing in the overall picture. China perhaps.”
With a blatant misunderstanding of climate change, Murdoch now wields control over a bastion of science education with a global circulation of 6.8 million per month, though subscriptions have dropped by 20 percent in the last three years.
The confounding nature of the acquisition of National Geographic by 21st Century Fox resides in this clear conflict of interest. The flagship cable news company Murdoch runs has notoriously instructed newscasters to downplay not only the threat of climate change, but also the role of human activity and industry in the rise of global temperatures. Meanwhile, both the National Geographic magazine and Nat Geo TV have, up to this point, devoted considerable resources toward understanding and exposing the devastating effects of climate change. Is it reasonable to believe that the anti-science intellectual ethos of an insidiously propagandistic media mogul will not alter the trajectory of Nat Geo’s journalistic integrity? Probably not.
What this ultimately means for science education — and for the future of public media — remains to be seen. With HBO now owning Sesame Street, the digital revolution we see taking place in the television industry also represents a dearth of non-profit public media within the U.S. As a new generation of children and young adults grow up in educational environments increasingly curated by multinational corporations with geopolitical agendas, at what point is it fair to question the morality of certain mergers? More importantly, at what point should consumer and citizen rights groups work to forestall these mergers for the sake of the common good? If we’re going to live in a corporatocracy in which corporations control the government, when do we adopt the ability to vote corporations out….with or without our wallets?
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